Max Liebermann - Judengasse in Amsterdam
Judengasse in Amsterdam
Oil on canvas 125 x 175 cm Framed. Signed and dated 'M. Liebermann 09' in brown lower left. - Partially with fine craquelure.
In Max Liebermann's rich oeuvre large-scale paintings such as „Judengasse in Amsterdam“ from 1909 can rarely be found. Today most of these major works are located in renowned important national and international museum collections.
After Max Liebermann had been to Holland for the first time, presumably in 1871, not a year passed in which he did not travel there. Scheveningen was among his favourite destinations, but also towns like Haarlem, Laren, Noordwijk, Zandvoort and Amsterdam. In 1924 the art historian Max Friedländer, a contemporary of Liebermann, noted in his biography of the artist that his work in Berlin and Holland were bound together by fate: Berlin held him fast, while Holland called him to it year after year (see Max J. Friedländer, Max Liebermann, Berlin 1924, p. 41). Ten years earlier Erich Hancke, who had followed Liebermann with a more critical eye, had already described this connection in his book on the artist's life and work, which was published by Bruno Cassirer in 1914: “The role that this country plays in his life, the affinity that binds him with it, is equally enigmatic and of an elemental power. It calls to mind the return of all beings and entices us with thoughts of an earlier existence lived as a Dutchman.” (Erich Hancke, Max Liebermann. Sein Leben und seine Werke, Berlin 1914, p. 113).
Liebermann discovered major themes in Amsterdam: becoming interested in women manufacturing preserves, describing daily life at Amsterdam's orphanage, depicting the bustle at the annual fairs and extensively exploring the Jewish Quarter. To a certain extent Europe's Jewish Quarters, such as those in Amsterdam, in Prague and Vienna, in Budapest and Berlin, proved to be a distinct world with its own rhythm and fixed patterns of communal life. The people there lived in spatially more or less isolated groups near the synagogue, stood under the legal jurisdiction of their own rabbinical courts and were plainly distinguished from the rest of the towns' inhabitants through their language, clothing, religious practices and family traditions. For Liebermann this place in Amsterdam was specifically and inseparably linked with his veneration of Rembrandt. Thus, he could not simply stroll through the narrow streets of this genius loci without coming across motifs that fascinated him everywhere. He owed his first encounter with this colourful place to his acquaintance with fellow painter and future director of Amsterdam's academy of art, August Allébé, who served him as a knowledgeable guide familiarising him more closely with this quarter in the summer of 1876. He created images of his initial impressions, and sketches of details accumulated into something larger, for example, the market scenes which culminated in the first painting of the “Judengasse” years later, in 1884: almost devoid of people, the atmosphere grey in grey, red roofs on dimly suggested facades animating the real tristesse apparently sought by Liebermann (Eberle 1884/25). As with so many other themes, Liebermann occupied himself intensely and repeatedly with this area of Amsterdam, which still remains vibrant today. Impressive pictures followed: the net menders, the old woman with goats, the farmers saying grace, the bleaching of textiles on the dunes outside Katwijk, the pig market in Haarlem, the farmers sitting among the dunes, the scenes of everyday life with schoolchildren in Laren and boys bathing in the sea.
Years later, on 10 July 1905, Max Liebermann contacted the Dutch painter, graphic artist and art critic Jan Veth by post, writing among other things: “I think I will be back in Holland in 14 days and […] whether I might be able to have a room to work somewhere in the Jewish Quarter, preferably with a garden and courtyard, where it would be possible to have models pose. But it will scarcely be possible to have that and I will have to content myself with painting people within its interior. [...] Please pardon my bothering you with this sort of thing, but it is hugely important to me to be able to make the studies.” (Letter 1905/342, cited in: Max Liebermann, Briefe, ed. by Ernst Braun, Baden-Baden, 2013, vol. 3, 1902-1906, p. 325). Liebermann planned to rent a room directly adjacent to the market in order to observe its bustling activity without disruption. He was met with scepticism from the people who lived there, who felt disturbed in their activity by this artist making his sketches. Regarding his experiences, Liebermann reported to the Berlin-based draughtsman, lithographer and etcher Hermann Struck on 24 August 1905: “I have, namely, once again made the attempt to work in the Jewish Quarter, and I have already endured some unpleasantness during studies: but our dear co-religionists have achieved a record in this respect. They cannot even be tamed with money. I am thinking of staying here for 8 more days, then I have to go to Hamburg to paint portraits.” (Letter 1905/356, op. cit., p. 340). Liebermann succeeded in renting a room with a view of the colourful bustle of the Jodenbreestraat. He had already reported in advance to Wilhelm Bode, his friend and the general director of the art collections in Berlin: “Now I am painting in the Jewish Quarter, where I made my first studies more than 30 years ago. Parcequ'on revient toujours à ses premiers amours.” (Because one always returns to his first love, Letter 1905/355, op. cit., p. 340).
From 1905 to 1909 Liebermann repeatedly returned back to the theme of the Jewish Quarter and then largely interrupted this pursuit in order to deal with the other impressions from his stays in Holland in the paintings he did in Berlin. The 1905 oil study (see comparative illus.) now preserved in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum met with great admiration from contemporary critics for the “vibrant life of its brushstroke” (Hancke op. cit., p. 437) when it was purchased in 1909, and Hancke judged the view of the Jodenbreestraat to be one Liebermann's best paintings. This very personal assessment is perhaps further reinforced by the fact that Hugo von Tschudi, director of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, was also considering purchasing it for his museum, but then decided against it.
These strong painterly impressions (see Eberle 1905/6-12, 1907/5-9) created on site - of the streets, the facades, the stands of the market and the groups of people - helped the experienced artist to stage his magnificent depictions of the urban life of Amsterdam in his Berlin studio. In the preliminary study “Gemüsemarkt in Amsterdam” from 1908 (see comparative illus.), Liebermann has once again selected a compact detail from the scene, using a study-like reproduction of reality done from nature to test the effect of the passage from the market's life which was later chosen and transferred into what the artist saw as stylistically proper channels in 1909: his depiction of the commotion among the market's visitors and the sellers behind their stands, the buyers checking the goods and haggling and pausing at the corner of the Uilenbugersteeg and Jodenbreestraat - these are the impressions that matured into large-format compositions in the studio. Lively faces and surprisingly colourful flecks inserted in clear red, bold blue and a mixture of green and yellow freshen Liebermann's palette. According to the given choreography, the colours in the women's dresses and the pedlars' wares on the market barrows rise to a crescendo, emerging loudly, or become muted and calm towards the distance of the receding perspective.
At this time Liebermann seems to have been influenced not least by Julius Meier-Graefe's “Entwicklungsgeschichte der modernen Kunst”, published in 1903, which demanded a renunciation of symbolism in favour of impressionism and, in doing so, took aim at the painting of Arnold Böcklin in particular. Karl Scheffler - Berlin's chronicler of art, who was feared for his reviews - had already affirmed Max Liebermann's unification of art and life in his 1906 monograph on the artist and emphasised his distinctive and unconditional devotion to reality. Liebermann personally referred to himself emphatically as an “impressionist”, seeing this not so much as a term for a style of painting, but rather as a world view. Along with Rembrandt, Édouard Manet provided the model for Liebermann's understanding of art. Manet's painterly methods, formal idiom and the completeness of his thoughts turned into images are reflected not just in Liebermann's sketches, studies and paintings: he also admiringly acknowledged his importance through his purchase of one of the Frenchman's famous still lifes with asparagus from 1880.
In our exceptionally large painting Liebermann tells the story of the highly expressive bustle within a magnificent harmony. We feel his sensibility and great affinity for his theme, its almost infinite content, which he is able to bring out clearly through his subtle sense for narrative. The authenticity of the motif of the market setting - embedded within the surrounding architecture, which Liebermann has staged with the help of numerous sketches and studies painted on site - is impressive and documented through contemporary postcards (see comparative illus.). Facades, window forms, doors and the doorways surrounding them, the wood of the barrows: Liebermann's hand greets all of this with his characteristic fidelity to materials and invests it with an effect of direct immediacy, which the painter in this masterpiece brings to completion through his decisive use of colour.
List of works
1909 on sale in Berlin; Adolf Rothermundt Collection, Dresden-Blasewitz (1910); Paul Cassirer, Berlin (1919); Max Böhm, Berlin (1923); Rudolph Lepke's Kunst-Auctions-Haus, auction 2039 Max Böhm Collection, Berlin 28 January 1931, lot 29; Private possession, Berlin/New York (presumably Mrs Stahl); Galerie Grosshennig, Düsseldorf (1954); since then Kaufhof, Cologne
Julius Elias, Das zehnte Berliner Sezessionsjahr, in: Kunst und Künstler, vol. VII, issue 9, May 1909, p. 401 with illus. p. 392; Robert Schmidt, Die Achtzehnte Ausstellung der Berliner Secession 1909, in Kunst für Alle, vol. XXIV, 1908/1909, p. 445 with illus. p. 449; Hermann Voss, Die achtzehnte Ausstellung der Berliner Sezession, in: Der Cicerone, vol. I, issue 9, May 1909, p. 298; Paul Fechter, Die Sammlung Rothermundt, in: Kunst und Künstler, vol. VIII, issue 7, March 1910, p. 353; Karl Scheffler, Max Liebermann. Mit 100 Abbildungen nach Gemälden, Zeichnungen und Radierungen, Munich 1912, illus. p. 83; Erich Hancke, Max Liebermann. Sein Leben und seine Werke. Mit 303 Abbildungen und einem Werkkatalog der Gemälde und Pastelle bis 1913, Berlin 1914, p. 445, 472, 544, illus. p. 444; Erich Hancke, Max Liebermann. Sein Leben und seine Werke. Mit 305 Abbildungen und einem Werkkatalog der Gemälde und Pastelle bis 1913, Berlin 1923 (2nd, slightly modified edition, with a list of publicly owned paintings by Liebermann), p. 445, 472, illus. p. 444; Hans Rosenhagen, Max Liebermann, Bielefeld/Leipzig 1927, p. 78, illus. p. 77; Hans Ostwald, Das Liebermann-Buch. Mit 270 Illustrationen, Berlin 1930 illus. p. 325; Unbekannter Autor, Sammler und Markt – Versteigerung der Sammlung Böhm (preliminary report about the auction at R. Lepke on 18 Jan.1931, in: Der Cicerone, vol. XXII, 1930, issue 23/24, p. 620 f., illus. p. 621; Emanuel bin Gorion i.a. (ed.), Philo-Lexikon. Handbuch des Jüdischen Wissens, Berlin 1935, plate 17 after p. 432; Willy Kurth, Max Liebermann. Achtundvierzig Bilder mit einem Text von Willy Kurth (Kunst der Gegenwart vol. III, ed. by Adolf Behne), Potsdam 1947, illus. no. 45; Karl Scheffler, Max Liebermann. Mit 65 Bildtafeln und einem Nachwort von Carl Georg Heise, Berlin 1953 (3rd ed.), illus. no. 55
Berlin 1909 (Secession), XXVIII. Ausstellung der Berliner Secession; cat. no. 163 with illus.; Berlin 1917 (Königliche Akademie der Künste), Max Liebermann, 70. Geburtstag, cat. no. 161; Zurich 1923 (Kunsthaus), Max Liebermann, cat. no. 75 with illus. plate XXII; Berlin 1927 (Preußische Akademie der Künste), Max Liebermann, 80. Geburtstag, cat. no. 67; Berlin 1930 (Preußische Akademie der Künste), Max Böhm Collection, cat. no. 30 with illus.; Berlin 1936 (Jüdische Gemeinde), Max Liebermann, cat. no. 36; Vienna 1937 (Neue Galerie), Max Liebermann, cat. no. 43 with illus. („Fischmarkt in Amsterdam“); New York 1948 (French & Co.), Max Liebermann, cat. no. 1; Bremen 1995/1996 (Kunsthalle), Max Liebermann. Der deutsche Impressionist, cat. no. 49 with colour illus. p. 203; Berlin 1997 (Stiftung "Neue Synagoge Berlin - Centrum Judaicum"), Was vom Leben übrig bleibt, sind Bilder und Geschichten. Max Liebermann zum 150. Geburtstag. Rekonstruktion der Gedächtnisausstellung des Berliner Jüdischen Museums von 1936, cat. no. 36, p. 228 with colour illus. p. 229